A file photo of students at a career forum initiated by the Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi in 2014 Image Credit: GN Archives

“I’ve never done a part-time paid job while studying during my studies, as finding such an opening is not easy in the UAE,” says Mohammad Audeh, 21, a final-year Bahraini student studying a BA in Audio Engineering and Production at SAE Institute. However, Audeh did work as an intern for Brand Folio, a distributor for a leading sports and lifestyle brand. 

He was selected for the job from a number of students who applied for it. “I took the job to gain professional workplace experience while studying,” says Audeh.

“We received a demo and were told to create a sound track that would fit the commercial. My ambition is to become a successful music producer, composer, sound engineer and designer," he adds.

It can be hard starting out anywhere, and UAE students know just how it feels. “I know most graduates start off their careers freelancing are all freelance workers since it is almost impossible to find a job as a newbie and not just for my major but for nearly all sectors. Most companies require experience between three to five years, but students have limited options to gain much experience in this country since not many companies are hiring them. Moreover, jobs that are available are either non-paid or very low-paid jobs,” Audeh says.

Regulations

In the UAE, a student is eligible to work under a work permit as an intern or in a part-time role, provided he or she is on a student, parent or spouse visa, says Jean-Michel Gauthier, CEO of InternsME.com. 

“A No Objection Certificate, offer letter, visa copy and other information may be required depending on the governmental authority the company falls under, he adds. “The employer has to pay the cost of the work permit, which ranges anywhere between Dh300-Dh600, depending on the duration of the permit being purchased and the governing authority.”

Suad Al Halwachi, Director of Education Zone, an educational support services firm, compares the UAE job market for students with other global education hubs. She notes that several countries such as New Zealand and many European nations offer work options for students including working as clerks, shop assistants, supermarket tellers, shelf packers, call centre agents, library assistants and research assistants.

“They also have a regulated pay rate method, for example, €18 (about Dh75) an hour in Europe and from NZ$11 (about Dh28) an hour in New Zealand. Job options for students are limited in the UAE though, with companies usually in favour of hiring students through six- or seven-week internship modules without pay,” she adds. 

Hurdles

“The main reason is that the processes and procedures involved in hiring students are both challenging and expensive. A company hiring a student is required to obtain a work permit, which is costly and time-consuming, as a student on a student visa also having a work visa is virtually nonexistent. The formalities underlining hiring students for jobs are tight. Besides, the costs involved have to be borne by the firm hiring the student,” Al Halwachi says.

Suad believes a solution to these issues would be to include a clause in student visas, allowing them to work part-time. This not only helps students to directly apply and receive a work permit from the relevant authority, but also assists the company in saving time and money, encouraging them to hire students. This in turn encourages firms to hire students for part time jobs, says Suad More importantly for the education sector,“The process will also make studying in the UAE as attractive as studying in the West, bringing more foreign students to UAE shores.”

Work experience allows students to enhance their skills and apply what they learn in a real-world environment, says Kamel Fodil, Vice-President, Student Affairs at the Canadian University Dubai.

“Work experience presents a range of challenges that students would not necessarily experience in the classroom, helping them to mature and develop their range of soft skills, and provide that competitive edge when they come to seek graduate employment," he says. "In the UAE, marketing and sales are the main sectors in which jobs are available for university students. Our students are offered opportunities to gain work experience through schemes including volunteering at events to peer-tutoring. Also, all students must take part in a work-based internship as part of their academic programme, in a field relevant to their discipline of study.”

Options

Gauthier points out that there are different work options for students. For instance, during a semester break an internship can aid them in developing the right skills in a company setting.

Students can then take up promoter/volunteer roles across events in the UAE and occasionally engage in flexible job opportunities such as content writing or other project-based work.

“However, part-time jobs in the UAE are incredibly fragmented," he cautions. "You have to know the right people or be involved in specific WhatsApp or Facebook groups to be aware of opportunities.

“There seems to be a mismatch between education output and work requirements. In the education sector, there is an emphasis on rote learning over independent thinking, leading to a lack of soft skills, professional communication, working with teams and time management to name a few. I think the solution has to involve us all, students, high schools, universities and companies.”

Gauthier says many renowned local universities are involving more work elements in their curricula. “Companies are also looking to develop internship programmes as they understand how important it is for solving crippling workforce issues such as high turnover, depreciation of loyalty and talent deficiencies.”